Late artist Peter Beard’s Orphaned Cheetahs Cubs, Mweiga, near Nyeri, Kenya (1968) is one of the most sought after of all his images from Kenya in the 1960s. As a powerful representation of the ecological consequences of human decisions, it has become his best-selling work. The work is now offered in the Top 20 sale on Artnet Auctions through January 27, with a pre-sale estimate at $50,000–$70,000.
After a life-changing trip in the 1950s, Beard became fascinated with the wildlife in East Africa. Horrified by rampant poaching and natural degradation, he began documenting the demise of elephants and rhinoceroses in Tsavo––a project that later became his best-known book, The End of the Game (1977). Part documentarian, part activist, Beard split his time between the fashion photography scene in New York City and Nairobi, Kenya, using his work to bring awareness to the importance of preserving the natural world.
In this iconic image of the cheetah cubs, the two subjects stare directly into the lens, emotionally captivating the viewer. Beard’s shot captures the innocence of the young animals, showcasing their abandonment. Like many of Beard's pieces, he left behind a unique mark on the print itself. In this case, an imprint of the artist’s hand has been left behind in paint on the surface of the work, reminding the viewer of his intimate diaristic relationship to his practice. A different print of this image with unique markings set the world record for Beard at auction, selling for $672,5000 in 2017.